On 16 November Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued an apology to the Forgotten Australians. As reported on the ABC, his apology noted how there were Australians who had been housed in institutions, and how many of them were treated badly, carrying scars that will never heal. There was reference to their lack of consent, and how their lives were changed irrevocably.
Minister Jenny Macklin said it was important to recognise the terrible wrongs of the past, and Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Turnbull said that the system had failed people across the generations.
Quite right too. And well overdue. By crikey we're at a turning point in Australia.
And then I realised that they weren't talking about people living with disability.
Not that it isn't important to acknowledge the often awful experiences endured by kids taken from their family homes and raised in institutions and foster homes often far far away, and driven by public policy lacking in thoughtfulness about children's rights and what children need.
Of course that's important, and it's right to have named it for what it is. It's just that there I've been trying to find where there has been a similar public apology to the disability community for the hundreds of years of discrimination, marginalisation, and exclusion, characterised for many by neglect and abuse. But I can find no such apology. Nothing. Diddly squat.
Because of the lifelong additional vulnerability that comes with a disability, the institutional response has been particularly harmful to many people's life chances, because the nature of their disability can make it much harder to bounce back. Take for example the experience of some people living with intellectual disability, who develop unusual and sometimes disagreeable habits in response to living in unwholesome settings (large and small institutions), and as a result they get labelled as 'challenging' by those in charge and get a double dose of more of the same.
In these and other ways we have been failing people living with disability for years, for generations. But there is no public apology. And why should we be surprised, when institutions big and small are alive and well in Australia, and imposing highly damaging lifestyles upon people who simply don't deserve such ignoble treatment.
Why aren't more people outraged by this? There are people living with disability whose rights, choices, citizenship and dignity are being compromised on a daily basis. We cannot stay quiet about this, and nor should those who have the responsibility of running the country.
So, dear Prime Minister, and Premiers, and Chief Ministers, let's have the public apology, and make it a good one. And back it up with strong human rights legislation that gives back to people living with disability their authority and their citizenship. And when we finally get a national disability strategy, make sure it puts those values into practice. Be accountable to your citizens living with disability.
And to you who has come to read this blog posting, forward it to your local MP, your Chief Minister, your Premier, your Prime Minister, and ask for the apology. December 3 is International day for People with Disabilities - an apology would give that day some meaning.
There's not a moment to lose.
(with thanks to ally Ross Womersley for stimulating this reflection)